NEW YORK – The wail that came up from the crowd was as if they heard that Sean Bell had died again.
"No!" they shouted, while dozens of people, wearing Bell's face on hats, T-shirts and buttons, burst into sobs.
The scene unfolded outside the courthouse Friday as three police officers were cleared of all charges in the 2006 shooting of Bell, who died in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day.
Hundreds of friends of Bell and others wanted vindication for what they called a racially motivated shooting, and they reacted with tears and explosive anger to the officers' acquittal.
Many people in the predominantly black crowd began reciting other cases where black New Yorkers were shot by police, and the officers, they said, got away with it.
"This was a disgrace, what happened today," shouted Calvin Hutton, a Harlem resident. "We prayed for a different result, but we got the same old bull——."
Inside the packed Queens courtroom, gasps could be heard when Judge Arthur Cooperman acquitted the officers. Bell's mother cried; her husband put his arm around her and shook his head. Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, left the courtroom immediately. Officer Michael Oliver, who fired the most shots, also cried.
"It hurts," said Paultre Bell's attorney, Michael Hardy. "If it didn't you wouldn't be human. Because it touches real lives. ... This is not over. This is not over."
A friend led a visibly upset shooting survivor Trent Benefield from the courthouse, with an arm firmly around his shoulders, while enraged people outside shouted "Murderers! Murderers!"
Scores of police officers formed lines in the middle of traffic to block the crowd from charging the courthouse. Some spectators briefly jostled with the officers right after the verdict was announced and several people rushed out of the courthouse, but the contact didn't become violent.
The crowd wore black T-shirts with Bell's face in a yellow circle in the middle, while other shirts read "Justice for Sean Bell." One group held a banner proclaiming, "50 Shots. 50 More Reasons We Need Revolution."
Dozens of people briefly began pushing and shoving each other as a crowd of hundreds started a processional following Bell's fiancee and Rev. Al Sharpton to their cars, on their way to Bell's gravesite. No one was hurt or arrested.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "We don't anticipate violence, but we are prepared for any contingency."
Despite the anger over the verdict, the protests were muted compared with past verdicts where officers were cleared in police shootings of black men. Several factors contributed to this, including improved race relations in the city in recent years and the fact that two of the officers are black.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the judge sent a message to officers that "when you're in front of the bench, that you will get fairness." But he said of the case: "there's no winners, there's no losers. We still have a death that occurred."
William Hardgraves, 48, an electrician from Harlem, brought his 12-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter to hear the verdict. "It could have been my son, it could have been my daughter" shot like Bell that night, he said.
He didn't know what result he had expected.
"I hoped it would be different this time. They shot him 50 times," Hardgraves said. "But of course, it wasn't."